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RAF Cottesmore Harrier Farewell

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Just how do you shrink-wrap a Harrier?

The question had been running through my mind from the moment I read a forum post, on a well known aviation site. My mind started to “boggle”. How exactly did you go about such a task – I have enough trouble covering a bowl with cling film before I microwave something - the cling film always tears when I pull it off the roll, and, just how do you find the ‘end’ again?

Being one of those old timers who remembers the Hawker P1127 (an aeroplane that goes up and down and even backwards? – impossible!) the forerunner of the Harrier, I was still trying to work out just how the shrinkwrap could be applied, when I spotted that somebody had come up with the great idea of a “Farewell to the Harrier” in support of Combat Stress, a charity that does exceptional work with our armed services personnel, to be held at RAF Cottesmore on March 1st.

Knowing places would be limited, I quickly sent off my email application and, in due course, after one or two communication glitches, the big day arrived and I found myself “tooled up” with a couple of Nikon D300 bodies and my chosen lenses.

We were received with warm RAF politeness and were given a few words of welcome by the Adjutant, Ft Lt James Calvert.

Time for photography had been restricted to around an hour and half but, to the RAF’s credit, 5 Harriers had been parked on the large maintenance apron and were sufficiently well spaced to enable us all to take photographs without including other snappers, ground crews or advertising hoardings – you know, all those little elements that always conspire to spoil that “perfect shot”. They even provided gantries for our use and every time a Green Goddess fire appliance stopped near aircraft, the Canon and Nikon protagonists fought for control of the vehicle roof!

One of the Harriers had been “powered up” and access to the cockpit was offered to all – along with the opportunity to sit in the hot seat and take photos of the cockpit systems and instrumentation.

Photographers wandered everywhere in the vicinity of the parked aircraft and beyond, it seems. A follow up email, after the event, explained that images from inside the hangars should not be published as they should not have been taken in the first place!

The weather was dull and the lighting conditions were poor but the dullness added an appropriately sombre backdrop to what was, a sad occasion for many. Having taken our photos and exhausted just about all the angles where one could capture a Harrier image, we adjourned to the Fire Station for homemade cakes and hot tea.

However, I was not easily diverted from my goal to find out more about the Harriers’ fate. The “scuttlebug” seemed to be, from my questioning of the ground crews, NCO’s and the occasional Commissioned Officer, was that no-one knew what the final outcome would be and nothing had yet been totally ruled out.

“The Yanks want to buy them” – but it seems that there are problems because the engines are only leased to the RAF from Rolls Royce. Would they be “mothballed” and held in reserve – there was a suggestion that some already had been. Would they end up in aviation museums around the UK – or was there still a possibility of a U turn? There was an air of acceptance amongst the RAF personnel I spoke to and they seemed resigned to their fate – whatever that may turn out to be.

“Shrinkwrapping”? Well, I never did find out how that was done but, no matter, we all had a great time indulging in our hobby.

I would like to thank Fl. Lt. Calvert for all his hard work in making the visit possible and all those who helped with the event, despite the personal difficulties and uncertainties they and their families are facing over the coming months.

It was a great PR exercise for the RAF and the MOD. No obvious restrictions on our photography, a warm and friendly atmosphere and complete openness when answering our questions.

And the final total for Combat Stress – over £2000 so well done to all!

Review by Dave Briers - click HERE for Daves Showcase